Kyler Murray’s decision to chase his NFL dream over a guaranteed pro baseball career didn’t come as a surprise to a former coach and close friend.
“I’ve seen him play a lot of baseball games too, but there’s a certain spark in him that I see on the football field that I didn’t always see on the baseball field,” said Jeff Fleener, Murray’s former offensive coordinator at Allen High School.
On Monday, the sports world erupted when the former Oklahoma quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner announced via Twitter he was bypassing the opportunity to play for the Oakland Athletics organization and focusing on an NFL career.
Murray’s message included: “Football has been my love and passion my entire life. I was raised to play QB and I very much look forward to dedicating (100 percent) of myself to being the best QB possible and winning NFL championships.”
Murray, of course, was selected by the A’s in the first round of last summer’s baseball draft. He earned a $4.6 million signing bonus for being the ninth overall selection and now will need to repay the organization.
ESPN's Mel Kiper and Todd McShay have predicted Murray as a first-round selection in the NFL Draft, which begins on April 25.
Murray’s next stop will be the NFL combine in Indianapolis. Quarterbacks are scheduled to work out March 2. Oklahoma's Pro Day is scheduled for March 13.
“We knew this was a possibility,” A’s general manager David Forst told the San Francisco Chronicle shortly after Murray's announcement. “We’ve been talking to Kyler since the day we drafted him … we knew he had a great option in the NFL."
Forst didn’t say when Oakland was informed of Murray’s decision, but said, “We’ve known from the tone of the conversations he could choose the NFL. We’ll focus on what we need to do to make sure that if he comes back to baseball at some point, he comes back with the A’s.”
Oakland will retain Murray’s baseball rights if he returns to the sport.
Former Heisman winner Tim Tebow has chosen the football-baseball path. He played three seasons in the NFL (2010-12) and has played in the New York Mets’ minor league system between 2017-18.
Baker Mayfield, Murray's predecessor at Oklahoma, was the first overall selection by the Cleveland Browns in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Fleener said he often keeps in touch with Murray and exchanged text messages over the weekend. The coach would ask how he was doing but said he never imposed on the player’s thoughts when he was weighing football and baseball.
Fleener said he does know the family did important homework before making the decision.
“They have done their due diligence on what his prospects are and his opportunities of getting drafted in the first round and matching up how Major League Baseball contracts work and how NFL contracts work,” said Fleener, who is currently the head coach at Mesquite (Texas) High School. “It’s exciting for me knowing that I’m going to continue to watch him playing football and that this was not a decision made out of haste or that I love this sport more than the other one.
“It was a calculated business decision which basically all decisions have to be at this point.”
There is a good likelihood Murray will be a NFL Draft first-round pick, which helped his decision making.
“The fun thing, through all this and whether I had the relationship that I have with Kyler or not, is seeing the athlete have all the power,” Fleener said. “It’s an interesting deal and an interesting dynamic and you get to see the business side of it. He’s actually in control of the business side of it and that’s a fun thing to see.”
Fleener understands Murray will have his detractors, just like the quarterback did when he played at Allen and Oklahoma.
“There are always people that will want to be negative and want to say he’s not tall enough or not going to be able to run like that in the NFL,” Fleener said. “There will be a thousand things that they are going to say on why he can’t do it.
“That’s all you have to do with that guy, tell him he can’t do something and see what happens. It’s a blast because as a football fan, how could you not want to watch a game that Kyler Murray’s taking snaps in? You never know what could happen.”